November 30, 2008
This is the 1888 translation by English publisher Henry Vizetelly. He was subsequently prosecuted for obscene libel and fined £100; and when he reissued it in 1889 he was again prosecuted, fined £200, and imprisoned for three months. That should give some idea of how this book was received. If you like sex and violence (and who doesn't right?) you should like this novel; at least, that is what Zola's critics said when it first came out.
The most recent translation available (as of this review) remains Douglas Parmee's 1980 Penguin Classics. I have read it and found it very good. The 1888 Vizetelly translation I have not read, but after some comparative checks I think it is poor and would only recommend it with reservation.
As an example, here is the first sentence of book.
"That morning Jean, with a seed bag of blue linen tied round his waist, held its mouth open with his left hand, while with his right, at every three steps, he drew forth a handful of corn, and flung it broadcast."
"That morning, Jean had slung a blue canvas seedbag round his middle, and was holding it open with his left hand, whilst with his right he took out a handful of wheat and with every third step scattered it broadcast with a sweet of his arm."
The 1888 reads awkwardly. The 1980 is clearer and easier to visualize (Parmee expands on "broadcast" by inserting an extra description to clarify what is meant). There is also a fair amount of cursing going on and, while I have not looked it up, I can't imagine Vizetelly translated it as intended. Other translations of Zola by Vizetelly have been bowdlerizations so I assume the same is true here. But we have Parmee's 1980 translation which is most definitely unburdened by Victorian moral rectitude's! It is the one to read.
The novel has over 100 characters, many with multiple names and complicated genealogical trees. I have created a list of the characters, a helpful reference for reading the novel:
(STB, 11-2008, 220)